The schedule makers weren’t so kind to the Brooklyn Nets, and now the prognosticators are following suit. Many are predicting a season of doom and gloom, which will result in a gift-wrapped lottery pick delivered to Danny Ainge’s Boston Celtics office.
Four-fifths of the Nets’ starting lineup will return this season, which is a positive in terms of continuity, but the one replacement from last year’s starters — Jarrett Jack — has been harshly criticized for his extreme negative plus/minus rating accumulated a season ago. Critics have also pointed out Brooklyn’s record when Jack was the starter last season as a reason for pessimism.
On the surface it’s difficult to look at the data and build a case that the Nets are a better team sans Williams. After all, they went 11-16 overall when Jack was the starter, but 4-10 when Williams was inactive. A 27-game sample should be enough evidence to form a conclusion about Jack as the starter, but is it possible that the results and statistics are misleading?
Jack’s per-game statistics appear similar whether Williams was inactive or on the bench, but it’s worth noting that his assist-to-turnover ratio was significantly better when Williams wasn’t available.
With Williams inactive:
With Williams as a reserve:
If Jack was scoring and distributing at an effective rate, then why did the Nets struggle with him at the helm?
The starting lineup that surrounded Jack during those games was much different from the lineup that led the post All-Star break surge, a 17-13 record and a postseason berth.
Here are some possible contributing factors to the Nets’ dismal stretch with Jack in the starting lineup:
- Thaddeus Young wasn’t in Brooklyn yet and the lineup featured a Kevin Garnett-Mason Plumlee pairing at the power forward and center positions.
- On KG’s “rest games” an inconsistent Brook Lopez took his place and that Lopez-Plumlee duo mixed like oil and water.
- During the stretch of games in which Williams was inactive, there wasn’t a viable backup to give Jack a breather, unless you felt Darius Morris was that guy. The result was a heavy workload for Jack in which he played on average of 38 minutes per night.
- The Nets’ identity was still being determined and as a whole they hadn’t hit their stride yet. This was a time when Lionel Hollins was still experimenting with players like Sergey Karasev in the starting lineup.
- Yes, Bojan Bogdanovic and Lopez were key producers leading up to the playoffs, but it’s important to remember how inconsistent these two were during the first half of the season. Lopez was a shell of himself as he worked the rust off his game, whereas Bogdanovic appeared to be a rookie lost and lacking confidence.
Bogdanovic Before and After the All-Star Game:
Lopez Before and After the All-Star Game:
Basketball is a team sport, so is it truly fair to pin blame on one particular player if his teammates are struggling mightily?
It may seem like I’m wearing rose-colored glasses while writing this. I am not oblivious to the warts in his game, such as his propensity to take low-percentage shots as well as his shortcomings on the defensive end. He has the ability to shoot the Nets in or out of a game.
Now entrusted with the starting job, it’s up to Jack to play with the type of discipline and control that a floor general needs to possess. It’s his responsibility to elevate the performances of others on the offensive end. In terms of his defensive woes, perhaps having better athletes around will mask those deficiencies.
Jack may be less talented than his former teammate, but you cannot deny the intangibles that cannot be quantified such as mental toughness, likability, and “clutchness”. There should be better chemistry without the negative energy Williams emitted.
Advanced metrics haven’t been kind to Jack, but the same cynics who mock his putrid plus/minus rating during the regular season should acknowledge that he was a +58 during six postseason games, whereas Williams’s final tally was -42. Certainly the sample was small, but the competition was fierce and the stakes were high.
It won’t be smooth sailing, but with their core intact and a confident floor general running the offense, perhaps the Nets can build on how they finished the 2014-15 season and surpass the low expectations the pundits are predicting.